When did houses stop being homes?

Chipped Monopoly House

New-build buyers tweeting @myhousesucks; newspapers offering buy-to-let prizes; a nation of renters in expensive, shoddy accommodation. Our housing is in a state...

What is a home for? Every little while something happens that requires us to revisit this question, each time recalculating, reassessing. Whether it’s the Spare Room ad for a single bed, in a kitchen in Kingston, for £400 a month (“PLEASE notice is not a room,” it read. “Is a single bed in shared kitchen, you can use your own entrance from the garden, if you wish”, and even the punctuation was designed to make you cry) or this week’s Daily Mail offering readers the chance to WIN A Buy-To-Let House, we return to the question, as if coming home. What is a home for?

One quick aside about the Daily Mail’s competition. The £260,000 house, which will be available for the winner to put on the rental market in autumn 2015, is due to be built by Taylor Wimpey homes. One of the last times Taylor Wimpey appeared in the Mail was in February, in a piece headlined “The New House From Hell!” “Luke and Alison Mahon hoped five-bedroom home near Reading, Berkshire, would be the perfect place to start family,” explains the intro on Mail Online. “But the couple soon uncovered major faults and have catalogued 140 since moving in just five months ago. Mr Mahon, 45, grew so frustrated with Taylor Wimpey he set up a Twitter account to document the problems.”

Today Mahon’s Twitter (@myhousesucks) reveals he is still unsatisfied. Though builders appear to be attempting “remedial work”, he says Taylor Wimpey contractors damaged his furniture, left his house unsecured and “aggressively threatened” him about a video he’d posted. “Really at our lowest point today,” he tweeted to his followers, many of whom replied with their own Taylor Wimpey complaints. Taylor Wimpey “apologised” for the issues and said it will “complete the work as soon as possible”. Anyway. After that the paper teamed up with them to offer a free house to one of their readers, and here we are.

And here we are, sleeping on sand, our homes sliding quietly into the sea. On New Year’s Eve 2014, more than 2,000 families were staying in B&Bs. As the buy-to-let market booms, and 11 million people are private renters, the loss of their tenancy has become the leading cause of homelessness. Part of that is due to inexperienced landlords, those who bought a flat in the city then moved to the seaside, capitalising on crazy market rents but oblivious to the requirements of a tenant. A third of properties do not meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard; 61% of renters reported that they have experienced damp, mould, leaking roofs, electrical hazards, animal infestations and/or gas leaks. Life for many tenants, who currently spend nearly half their wages on rent (rent that is expected to rise twice as fast as their income over the next 25 years), is roundly quite shit.

I don’t blame the homeowners – I am one, after all. But one of the main causes of the property crisis is that there aren’t enough houses to buy, and one of the reasons there aren’t enough houses to buy is that landlords, taking advantage of generous tax breaks, have bought them to let out. A third of the houses sold under Right to Buy (reported the Daily Mirror) are now owned by private landlords.

The Mail’s free house suggests that our ambitions have changed. Where once we dreamed of a house of our own, do we now yearn for a house for loan? Have we given up on the idea of a home completely now that a house is less a machine for living in, more a machine for printing cash? Because what is a home for if not for nailing your paintings to the wall, for falling asleep in front of Have I Got a Bit More News for You, for fights and sex and growing old? What is a home for when before it’s even been lived in, it is given away with a newspaper? What is a home for, when what Britain desires is a business opportunity rather than somewhere to live a life?

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk. Follow Eva on Twitter @EvaWiseman

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Eva Wiseman, for The Observer on Sunday 7th June 2015 06.00 Europe/London

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